Think Outside the Boxer!

Now we finally have a choice at the top end of the adventure bike market – which bike to buy? BMW have the reputation, history and the marketing, and for some people that is all that’s needed. For the rest, this page will attempt to provide a dispassionate comparison of the BMW 1200GS and the Super Tenere XT1200z

I rode BMW motorcycles for 27 years, and loved them. I was 16 when I first got interested… their weird engine design compared to other bikes was one thing that attracted me. Once I understood how they worked, they just made perfect sense to me as a long-distance touring bike. Remember, the competition in the early 70’s consisted of a bunch of vibratory and generally unreliable vertical twins – including some from Yamaha, the XS650, the TX500 and the disastrous TX750. The Brit bikes were still around as well. Japanese fours were just coming on the scene, but who needs all that weight and complexity, when you can get a smooth engine with a horizontal twin?

BMW R80gs, 1981

BMW R80gs, 1981

Fast forward to 2011 – for 30 years BMW have dominated the market they created with the R80GS in 1981. I bought one in 1982 and did 100,000 miles on it. It was a great bike, but by this time the Japanese had caught up – and passed – BMW in the reliability stakes. But they still didn’t take on the big adventure touring market till Yamaha started winning Paris-Dakars with the Super Tenere 750 (seven times in the ’90’s). It was a great bike and still has a lot of fans years after it ceased production – but didn’t sell in great numbers and didn’t make a dent in BMW’s dominance of the adventure-touring market.

Yamaha Super Tenere 750

Yamaha Super Tenere 750

I never got to ride the original Super Tenere, but I was looking closely at a TRX 850 as a fun sportbike (another bike that never came to the US?). A test ride gave me a clue as why the 750 didn’t take off. To be frank, the motor felt like a bit of a dud. It was pretty soft in the 850 form, so I guess the 750 was slower still. On top of that handling was slow and cumbersome for what was supposed to be a sport bike. (As an aside – rumors are we’ll see a TRX1200 next year. I hope the 1200 translates better to a soft sport-bike or sport-tourer than the 850 did.)

There are two other bikes in this category right now – the Ducati MultiStrada 1200 and the KTM 990. Personally I don’t consider them to be in the same class. One is too road-oriented and the other too dirt-biased. They both have chain drive.

Yamaha TRX850

Yamaha TRX850

So, where does that leave us now? Both the Super Tenere and the various flavours of the GS have their pros and cons – I’ll let Yamaha’s marketing department have the first stab at it… I’m looking forward to refining this as we get some experience with the Super Tenere.



The Advantages
Yamaha Super Ténéré®

Most Capable and Versatile Adventure Sport Tourer in its Class / Most Value

Lowest Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) in its class and loaded with exciting technological advances, innovations, and exclusives for NO extra charge
YES—$13,900 MSRP / dollar for dollar the best value in its class
NO—$14,950 MSRP + $495 destination fee
All-new powerful 1199cc parallel twin liquid-cooled engine with unique crank delivers uneven 270° firing interval which reduces the “inertial torque” providing a more linear throttle response and improved rear wheel traction.
YES—Unique crank design is exclusive to Ténéré / The rider feels like he / she is connected directly to the rear wheel, an important benefit when riding on loose surfaces like gravel and dirt.
NO—1170cc air/oil-cooled flat twin (‘Boxer’) with traditional firing order
Drive-by-Wire YCC-T® (Yamaha Chip Control Throttle) delivers instantaneous and flawless throttle response
YES—Quicker, more powerful acceleration

NO—Not available

on the GS

3-mode Traction Control (Normal, Sport, Off ) lets the rider get on the gas with more confidence
YES—Superior versatility / Superior traction on a variety of surfaces
NO—GS Traction Control is not a standard feature and costs $400 extra
Advance braking performance via Yamaha’s sophisticated Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) helps prevent wheels from locking up on slippery road surfaces while the advanced Unified Braking System enables riders to control balanced braking between front and rear
YES—Superior performance / 5mm larger front discs and 17mm larger rear
NO—ABS is not a standard feature and costs $1,100 extra / Unified Braking System is not available on the GS
Yamaha D-Mode (Drive Mode) variable throttle control provides adjustable engine/ignition mapping capability—“T-mode” enables softer engine response when touring, “S-mode” delivers highest performance response when Sport riding
YES—Superior versatility for true ADV riding enjoyment
NO—Ordinary cable throttle / Variable throttle control is not available on the GS
Smoother shifting 6-speed transmission with gear ratios optimized for everything from slow dirt roads to higher speed sport ridin
YES—Taller 6th-gear than GS for optimum cruising
NO—GS 6-speed set-up not as smooth
Compact, large-capacity wet, multi-disc coil spring clutch delivers consistent, positive engagement
YES—Superior performance and feel
NO—Dry clutch design
Modern ADV sport touring design with distinctive head-turning style
YES—Even has R1(R)-style turn signals and reflectors
NO—Old and dated design
Low, centralized engine mass design delivers optimal balance and optimum front-rear harmony
YES—The resulting weight distribution is nearly even at 51/49 / Translates into lighter feel and handling than on the GS
Crankshaft located low and close to the foot pegs contributes to low centralized mass
YES—Gives the bike a remarkably light feel, even off- road
Narrow 2-cylinder inline engine is slim and compact
YES—For carving tight lines in twisty mountain roads
NO—GS boxer twin is bulky and translates into heavier ride feel–design leaves cylinders vulnerable in off-road conditions
Fully-Adjustable inverted fork front suspension with 43mm tube, adjustable preload, compression and rebound damping delivers more positive rider feedback and adjustability for different ride conditions and load sizes
YES—Exceptional performance, versatility and comfort
NO—GS telelever front suspension is not as responsive, providing less rider feedback / Not fully-adjustable / No compression or rebound damping adjustability
Backbone-style high tensile steel frame uses engine as stressed member and delivers the perfect amount of strength, rigidity and flexibility. Soaks up the bumps off-road and performs beautifully on the highway, around town and in the twisties—specifically engineered to reduce rider fatigue
YES—Steel design offers more inherent softness than the aluminum GS frame / Provides excellent rider and passenger comfort, especially on longer rides
NO—Two-piece style aluminum frame / Not designed to reduce rider fatigue
Adjustable seat height allows lower height for shorter riders and roomier riding position for taller riders
YES—Rider can adjust 1-inch from 34.25″ to 33.26
NO—Not adjustable / Customer must order GS with lowered seat height/ suspension
Sturdy spoked wheels for more durable off-road performance carry tubeless tires
YES—Excellent reliability and value
NO—Spoked wheels cost $500 extra
Larger fuel tank for added convenience and peace of mind
Handlebar brush guards for more comfort in off-road conditions
YES—Excellent comfort and value
O—Hand guards are part of an optional “standard package that costs an extra $1,985
Intuitive foot peg design provides excellent comfort while the rider is seated and cruising, then rubber compresses when the rider stands to tackle more technical riding conditions, letting his or her boots contact the metal foot peg surface
YES—Exceptional convenience, comfort and value
NO—Rider has to stop and manually remove rubber for off-road riding
On-board computer diagnostics
YES—Added convenience and value
O—An on-board computer is only available on the GS as part of an optional “standard package that costs $1,985 extra
Rider can go significantly more miles in the saddle between valve adjustments
YES—Every 24,000 miles
NO—6,000 miles

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